HAWAI ITALIA, headquartered in The San Giovanni LupatAToto (Verona province) keeps its of in terms of SALes and employees. SpeedlaLAce revoluTIon: carbon fibre reinforced polymer (CFRPcfrp) technology.
“Unceasing evolution and a future-oriented attitude. These words can sum up the entrepreneurial strategy of HAWAI ITALIA, based in San Giovanni Lupatoto (Verona), a leading manufacturer of small parts for footwear in the fashion, outdoor and safety sectors. 2022 was characterized by the expected worldwide economic recovery after the previous two-year period conditioned by the pandemic and the Veneto-based company has managed to better establish itself on the market, both Italian and foreign, thanks to its skillful mix of craftsmanship and technical innovation. Two qualities that have let it outstand ever since it was founded in 1964 in Verona, as a manufacturer of costume jewelry items, later moving forward its current specialization, namely the creation of products for the footwear, garment, leather goods and pet sectors. Building on an increasingly important and established presence geared toward complete customer satisfaction, the owners’ goals also include entering previously unexplored market segments.
HAWAI ITALIA’s potential, destined to grow further over the course of this decade, led the Style staff to spend a day together in early summer with top management to discover the current situation and future plans of a company that serves the world’s leading brands and labels. In addition to the following interview with Sales Manager Gianni Fainelli, within this focus, we have conducted two other interviews: with Roberto Pradella, R&D Quality Manager and Martino Mantovan, Head of Production. Strategic figures of a business that, especially in recent years, has been able to identify the right professionalism within itself to ensure growth also from a commercial, image and sustainability point of view.
Gianni Fainelli, Sales Manager Hawai Italia
““Despite the growing numbers,” Gianni Fainelli points out, “we remain a family-run company, able to guarantee a technically and aesthetically impeccable range, by virtue of a strong propensity for research and innovation, with attention always focused on the stylistic trends of the market. We are constantly evolving, especially in the search for new materials and technologies, but also in terms of the workforce, which has arrived after the latest hires at 80 employees, distributed almost equally in the two Veronese locations. Despite the economy slowed down by the pandemic, in the last two years we have proceeded with integrations in various sectors: there has never been a shortage of work, as demonstrated by the historical record of sales set in 2021, aided by performance in the outdoor and safety sectors. Our main customers are the shoe factories in the sports sector and high-fashion brands, which require customized products and very fast lead times. We have the capabilities to work in this segment, in the plastic small parts business, our company is probably one of the most important.”
What are the current numbers and the overall market situation?
“Last year, sales grew both in Italy and abroad, but compared to the balanced situation a few years ago, now the export share has gone up. This year the goal is to grow again, although we will have to deal, like everyone else, with rising costs of raw material and procurement. Inevitably we will face higher costs of the final product, according to some estimates at the end of the year certain footwear will cost the user 10 to 20 percent more. At the level of markets, the scenarios are different, China is struggling to restart, to the point
that many entrepreneurs in our country’s districts have come back to Italy to request different components, so as not to be too tied to the Eastern market. For us, entering new markets has always been a strategy, to which we are also able to add and present innovative products in the areas where we are already present.”
For HAWAI ITALIA, one of the new developments in 2022 is the doubling of locations in the Verona area. How did you proceed with the subdivision?
“The initial idea was to expand the historical headquarters, but having an elegant three-story building adjacent to the composite materials production plant, which we already owned, we decided on this additional investment. In the new location, which is very large in terms of square footage, located along the A4 Serenissima highway, we entered in mid-April, moving management, administration and other offices, including the sales office. In the other location remained, in addition to the technical office, metal production, design and mold making, a last phase carried out directly from our workshop.”
Do you also have a production facility abroad?
“Yes, in Slovenia, in Nova Gorica, where we carry out manual assembly. The workforce consists of about ten permanent employees, with further additional staff reaching 40-50 at certain times, depending on the needs. The personnel we employ there are technically highly qualified, and this location plays a strategic role for us.”
The two macro-sectors in which you operate at the production level are metal and composite material. What strategies are you implementing?
“Currently, the biggest push is in plastics, which is the future in all sectors, since even in furniture, automotive and accessories it is more widely used than metal. In the main sector for us, namely footwear, everything is happening more slowly: in fact, a large part of the speedlaces and buckles are still made of metal, but the path is already set, considering the handiness of plastics, which guarantees greater lightness and performance. We decided, more than 20 years ago, to introduce plastic in footwear, when it seemed unthinkable. Actually, it was my father-in-law who launched composite toecaps and developed them with more and more modern technologies. Now the plastic material is also increasingly used in small parts, because of its lower weight, metal-free and practicality, as it does not oxidize, and its attractive aesthetics.
What is currently the most successful product in the range?
“Our R&D department is constantly engaged in the evolution of the thermoplastic eyelet, a product we are proud of. To less experienced eyes it may seem a simple and trivial thing, but this eyelet hides a considerable revolution: it replaces the metal eyelet to all intents and purposes. It is cold-assembled, holds its shape, no longer needs a washer, and is self-piercing. Thanks to machines designed in-house, the speed of execution is similar to that of metal eyelets. Its field of application is particularly wide: sneakers, children’s footwear, safety shoes, hiking shoes and fashion footwear. We also develop, with partner companies, the machine for the application, and the customer has only one contact person for eyelet, machinery and service.”
What are the main news in the outdoor sector?
“The innovations are many, but in particular, we have presented a line of high-performance carbon fibre speedlaces for application on the latest mountain and hiking footwear. It is highly innovative product, with an above-average cost, aesthetics must be perfect and safety at the highest level. Even lighter in weight, excellent in strength and technical performance compared to traditional composite material and metal, the new speedlaces make use of CFRP (Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer) technology, already used in materials for the automotive, aviation, sports and design sectors. This technology, which we presented at the spring edition of Lineapelle 2022 at the Milan fair, is derived from a reinforced composite material that uses carbon fiber as its main structural component. In this way we achieved the performance and lightness typical of layered carbon with the added value of far superior impact resistance and elasticity, against a slim design for an aesthetically appealing result. It is a revolutionary product created for high altitude shoes, but suitable for other footwear as well.”
Does this represent an evolution that you have carried forward over time?
“Previously, we worked with the Top Light model, made of composite material with outstanding technical features, which continues to be a flagship. Designed primarily for the safety compartment and evolving into the Evo line, we raised the bar for trekking, focusing on an even better product in terms of performance and aesthetics. At first, we encountered
mistrust in the mountain world regarding plastic, despite the fact that our products, although lightweight, are very strong: to convince customers used to metal hardware, our agents often go to companies equipped with a hammer, to demonstrate the actual strength of our “plastic pieces.” Never before has such advanced technology been applied to technical and sports footwear components with such revolutionary results.”
Can you give us an example of the applications of these models…
“Already with the Top Light we have equipped some Italian ski mountaineering athletes (a discipline that could debut at the Milan-Cortina 2026 Winter Olympics, ed.) with a boot from “La Sportiva,” which chose our technologies even before Carbon Fiber. The same industry opted for Top Light Evo on top-of-the-line ski mountaineering boots made of carbon, the Stratos V, the lightest in the world, developed in collaboration with world champion Michele Boscacci. They provided the carbon for us to test and we fitted the hooks and verified that they had amazing holds. This is the result of teamwork and our own intuition: the “recipe” of the Top Light Evo was born in house, after careful and long experimentation. With the use of carbon fibre, we can guarantee significantly lower weight and, above all, advantages in terms of shape, being very thin and aesthetically appealing components.”
What is the main challenge in your future?
“The ability to come up with more and more modern and technological products that are out of the ordinary. We are as committed as ever to innovation, the strategy of always being one step ahead of the competition is winning. Research & Development is increasingly crucial and we have an excellent team of people who can analyze future trends. This team is in charge of anticipating what tomorrow will hold. The team is largely made up of engineers, experts in plastics and composites and other professionals who will have to catch up signals from the market or even from our customers.”
Bruno Scipioni, President Hawai Italia
The new Hawai Italia’s headquarter in San Giovanni Lupatoto (Verona)
Some of the Hawai Italia products
“Quality is an essential aspect”
Roberto Pradella, R&D Quality Manager, explailains the choices involved major investstments. Uni Iso 9001:2015 Certitification achieved in June.
Roberto Pradella, R&D Quality Manager Hawai Italia
“With Roberto Pradella, Quality Manager at HAWAI ITALIA, we analyzed issues related to quality control and related efficiency. “It certainly represents one of the essential points pursued by the company,” he explained during our visit, “which is investing heavily in this area. The relationship we have built over time with customers has been based on the quality and reliability of products and services. The management has set a precise goal, focusing its efforts on an investment that materialized in June: the implementation of a Management System and the achievement of certification according to UNI EN ISO 9001:2015, which represents a strategic choice to improve the organization and be ready to meet the challenges that the market is proposing now and in the future.
The constant goal will be, as the standard says, “to focus on customer needs” to ensure better performance of products and services offered. At the same time, research is implemented to improve product performance, following the higher expectations of the target markets. Customers demand that a quality product should be simultaneously offered a complete service in production efficiency, optimized delivery time, competitiveness and higher performance. In fact, it is a demand that comes from all sectors, the one for us of reference, footwear, being no exception. Quality standards are rising higher and higher, major industrial groups are appearing in our industry that boast efficiency and quality in their culture.” In addition to the experience and knowledge of its in-house staff, HAWAI ITALIA relies on external structures, as seen by its ongoing collaborations with prestigious universities and research centers. “One of these,” Pradella points out, “is a spin-off of the Normale University of Pisa specializing in plastics, while Ca’ Foscari of Venice is involved in nanoparticles: specifically with the latter we have been carrying out research for 3 years, relying on a scientific luminary. For both universities, the partnership is with the faculties of engineering, particularly in materials. In view of the high degree of specialization, we are convinced that external figures are essential, to take further steps forward. Technology is advancing fast, and certain studies done 10 years ago are no longer relevant, so they need to be updated.”
For the Veneto-based company, too, the two “slow” years caused by the pandemic have allowed it to invest more in quality R&D. “Despite the dramatic situation caused by Covid-19,” said Pradella, “we have managed to keep our positions in the market, but in view of the restart, the ownership has decided to invest further in three major strands, in addition to certification. The first is related to personnel in the technical area, hiring new figures with proven experience to boost the research on new materials, design and industrialization of new products. The second relates to technology, by inserting the first three new “full electric” machines that reduce energy consumption by 70 percent in a program that in the coming years will rejuvenate and replace the 50 or so presses now operating in the plastic molding department, a machining center for in-house construction of equipment to improve tooling lead times, and three robotic islands, two for bi-injection of toecaps and one for automatic zamak molding. Finally, the third point concerns the infrastructural aspect: by building the new office, better logistics management of production departments and internal information flow has been ensured.” For HAWAI ITALIA having created new plastic composites and innovative processes has been relevant. “The discovery of additional formulations not available on the market,” clarifies the R&D Quality Manager, “has allowed us to offer items of higher quality than the competition. At the same time, it led us to begin a collaboration with high-level manufacturers that require very advanced technical specifications and guaranteed quality maintenance over time: these investments have been decisive in the growth of the company’s different divisions.
In trekking and outdoor, leading sectors in recent years, the HAWAI and TOP LIGHT brands are recognized for their high specifications, while they are subjected to very high temperature and mechanical stresses compared to international standards. In the fashion sector, where even the smallest detail has relevance, aesthetic is predominant, and we guarantee it with the use of raw materials of undoubted quality for compliance with aesthetic and chromatic parameters with the help of instruments such as spectrophotometer for color analysis and measurement. Finally, in the safety sector over the past decade, specific products have been designed and produced on required needs, guiding the customer in choosing the best geometries to achieve utmost comfort while ensuring the imposed quality standards.” Within the framework of international quality rules and regulations – Reach is the most common – HAWAI ITALIA is positioned at a high level of guaranteed performance. “The reference standards we are confronted with on a daily basis,” Pradella concludes, “can be encapsulated in three major compartments. 1: The absence of hazardous substances according to international standards and specifications directed by customers: the use we make of qualified suppliers and the use of selected raw materials allow us to meet and guarantee the regulations in place worldwide as well as the most stringent and restrictive specifications. 2. Corrosion resistance for metal products (UNI EN ISO 22775): our technologically highly advanced processes guarantee compliance with the standards required by customers and partners. 3. Standards for toecaps for safety shoes, regulated by UNI EN ISO 12568, which during 2022 will be replaced by UNI 22568. The new standard, which divides the performance of toecaps into two categories, is profoundly updated: the newly inserted category is particularly stringent, requiring higher results than the previous one. We start from a reassuring level: the high characteristics of the safety toecaps we market allows us to meet the standard and certify products to new standards. Thanks to constant research into new shapes and raw materials, some toecap series are already able to meet the
new updated limits.”
“A cockpit” to grow the company
Martino Mantovan, Operations Manager of the composite-plastic plant, explains modern strategies implemented through a new methodology of work and control.
Martino Mantovan, Operations Manager
“In HAWAI ITALIA’s internal staff, a strategic role is played by Martino Mantovan, Operations Manager of the composite-plastic plant, one of the two locations of the Verona-based company. Mantovan, trained with a diploma as a technical expert with numerous specialization courses, represents a modern figure that did not exist until a few years ago, able to link the different “souls” of the company at the production level. The goal, through a privileged cockpit, is the streamlining of the various departments and production lines, as well as staff training.
“With my work group,” he told us, “I take care of the production, logistics, maintenance, storage, and shipping. In the last few years, we have been carrying out activities related to the plastic composites part in order to be more responsive to order fulfillment, all through the basic steps: from raw material management to stock supply, up to consumption analysis on products with respect to the fastest indexes. At the same time, we proceeded with activities related to aspects that are not exclusively technical, working in particular on set-ups and
dynamics related to improvement, efficiencies and waste reduction, and all aspects related to the circular economy.”
Your professional background is related to the automotive industry: what experiences and skills did you bring by coming here?
“Working for 14 years in a company specializing in the production of automotive components, I interfaced with all the major Italian and foreign automakers: being well versed in the concept of ISO TS Quality, I found in HAWAI the concepts of: team, training and staff growth “very driven.” Within my previous work experience ‘the seeding’ and constant improvement aspects were always primary, now the main goal is to bring the same mentality within this company.”
Specifically, how was your role planned?
“As agreed with the ownership, my entry, four years ago, took place “on tiptoe” so as not to create imbalances, so much so that initially I dealt exclusively with the part concerning composite toecaps for work footwear. Over time I incorporated within the system the logistics part, planning, training, purchasing, so all aspects related to production. After proving, data in hand, that the path taken was the right one, I was given the area of small metal parts, another strategic sector for the company. We are now focused on improving this plant, which is currently being completed. Once finished we will proceed with the same strategy in the other location, where the reorganization work will be easier following the current guidelines.”
Could the presence of two separate plants be an obstacle to the current project?
“I would say no, we are very organized, the important thing is to optimize our resources, continuing working in parallel in both locations. The work plan implemented in the composite-plastic plant will be transferred “in full” to the other complex, certainly there will be no setbacks. We are implementing a very modern methodology, alike Lean Production, similar methods have never been implemented before, including machinery and production.”
How are HAWAI ITALIA’s technicians absorbing the new approach?
“Very well, they are all well prepared for improvements, from ownership down to the last employee in the company. My primary task is to standardize: the starting point is to bring all employees up to a level of training so that ‘everyone is useful and no one is indispensable.’ These concepts are ingrained in my training, and getting them acquired is not that difficult to achieve. The results are obvious: for a medium- sized company like ours, this kind of approach can make a difference economically and structurally.”
Can you give us a real example of this methodology?
“A production improvement we have seen by improving the efficiency “of the toecaps, a specific sector monitored through KPIs, i.e., production and process indicators, updated daily, which allow us to record in a precise way, parameters such as efficiencies, waste and downtime. When I arrived, there were no such indicators, and after this implementation we proceeded with an activity also aimed at analyzing and using the data. All of this, of course, took place with the approval of ownership, which is the “sponsor” of this business strategy, since significant investments were required. Initially they were not productive, but then over time they were a significant benefit, given the improvement of the entire team and the so-called performance indicators.”
Do you think these organizational choices will benefit your market share?
“We are sure of it, both large fashion houses and outdoor companies specifically ask for the updating of these indicators, through which they can monitor the parameters of the purchased product.”
Plastics are not all the same: where are the composite materials you use “winning”?
“The strategy falls within a well-defined framework, composite-plastics are becoming predominant throughout the industrial world, so development at the technological level is absolutely essential. From component selection to mixing to material management. We have state- of-the-art automated plants, starting from taking the raw material in granules and drying: the latter stage must be carried out with precise temperature and moisture level, otherwise problems arise in the production process. In short, we prepare “the recipe” using standardized and sophisticated systems, called gravimetrics, which measure all the various compounds in micrograms.”